A Faithful Skepticism, or, “Happy New Year!”

It is New Year’s Day; we feel a pervasive mood of skepticism. We don’t believe that 2021 will be better than 2020. For so long, we have believed that a technologically-fueled world is progressing toward greater human fulfillment. We spent a full century moving to larger communities, and with each move, we’ve lost faith in community. We know someone who has gotten the virus; a future vaccine still fails to inspire us. We doubt that science has our best interest at heart, because we know that Pfizer will take its part. Church buildings have stood vacant for more than a year. Faith is not fostered and furnished there… at least not typically. Education, which had promised a good job, seems to be on shaky ground. Until recently, an online degree was less valued than one done in person. Now? A degree done primarily online is all that is available. 

On the left we doubt; it seems that the stock market rise will ignore the colored villages whose members will die. We doubt we have the right to laugh, so we feel the need to censor our pain. In Canada, we censor our politicians who partake in leisure when the mass of people cannot. On the right, we criticize that the government is awry. The government does not seem to represent us. Democracy seems skewed. Security is lost. Indian farmers protest that the safeguard of government will lead to the destruction of an industry. Ambiguity reigns. And depressed and anxious people surround us. 

Happy New Year.

Honestly, I don’t believe the doubt in the systems. As much as I don’t believe the typical structures that had provided security, I know better than to feel insecure. And I think you should too. What has been expressed as widespread mistrust is not of what is around us, such as churches, universities, stock markets, and governments; the distrust is of ourselves. We distrust who we are. And I don’t believe it.

Let me rephrase: I don’t believe the lack of credibility in the “systems” is a reason for our insecurity.  It is the so-called “trust” in the systems that breed insecurity. As I have argued elsewhere, this has led us to a seeming death of context, as each of these systems break down. The rise in the stock market corresponds to a death of jobs. We are economically insecure. The increase in voter turnout in recent elections corresponds to an increasingly divided body-politic. We are politically insecure. A declining church attendance corresponds to an increasing number of people turning toward spirituality. We are religiously insecure. An epidemic of depression and anxiety corresponds with massive opioid overdoses, increased prescription drug-use, and suicide. We are psychologically insecure. An increase in natural disasters and the eradication of biological diversity corresponds to increasing global temperatures. We are ecologically insecure. An increasingly technical mediation, with social media and the associated devices, of social interaction corresponds to increased loneliness. Beyond our insecurity, what emerges in all of this is a misplaced faith.    

Warren Buffet, arguably the most successful investor in the history of capitalism, focuses most of his advice to people concerning success and happiness around one particular relationship – that of the individual and her community. He advises us to put people in our life – particularly our spouse and our friends – whom we admire. And if sustained financial success and enduring psychologically experienced happiness indicate anything, they indicate a sense of security. Yet our insecurity is based primarily in a misplaced faith: a misplaced faith in the economy, in churches, in political parties, in technology, and in drugs. It is like we have fulfilled Jesus’ prophetic words, “As for everyone who comes to me and hears my words and puts them into practice, I will show you what they are like. They are like a man building a house, who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock. When a flood came, the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well built. But the one who hears my words and does not put them into practice is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. The moment the torrent struck that house, it collapsed and its destruction was complete.” (Luke 6:47-49)

Now, unlike most Christian teachers, I am not going to convince you to choose Jesus, or to go to church. Instead, notice that in this whole scripture, Jesus is teaching the same relationship between individual and community, and principles that arise from that relationship. And the principle is this, that after selecting his apostles, which is building his community, Jesus teaches what is recorded in Luke as the Beatitudes – the beautiful teachings. And these beautiful teachings are in the communal nature of a “tree and its fruit”, of “loving your enemies”, of “give and it will be given to you”, of “the mutuality of forgiveness”, and of “refraining from condemning judgement”. And such teaching is completed by the security of building your house upon a rock, which, unlike sand, offers us security amidst the storms of life.  

Where we have sought self-service, let us choose to serve others. Where we have retreated into loneliness, let us choose our community. Where we have glorified our own heroic success, let us recognize the context which made it possible. Where we have suffered innocently, let us heal in awareness. Where we have the bad fruit of misplaced faith, let us take the fruit from another tree. Like with Jesus and the apostles, one may betray us. Let us still find ones who are rocks. And it is perhaps in these places that we will experience incarnate love.

And with all gratitude to all my community: in Edmonton, across Canada, in South Korea, Vietnam, India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Saudi Arabia, Italy, Germany, Colombia, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, the USA, Japan, Pakistan, the UK, Ethiopia, Egypt, Australia and New Zealand;

And with special gratitude to my mother, my siblings, my kids, and my love,

A very secure “Happy New Year!”

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